Thursday, January 14, 2016

Platinum Perfection

Tinkering with my Mustang one day while trying out a new tool, I decided to remove a spark plug and check its condition. I was rather surprised to find them heavily worn. I removed the other five and found all of them to have extremely large gaps, indicating they were near the end of their useful life. As the car had nearly 90,000 miles on the odometer I surmised that these were likely the original plugs. I obtained replacements and installed them but did not discern any appreciable improvement in how the car ran.

Such is the wonder of modern technology. Tired plugs like the ones I had removed from the Mustang's engine would have caused erratic running and poor economy in any number of older cars I had once owned. I was reminded of my 1979 Austin Mini and its point distributor that required regular fiddling to keep it properly functioning. Minor adjustments on older cars could reap noticeable rewards.
Today, computers control the functions of fuel and spark. Wear is compensated for automatically, as are fuel quality, air temperature and a host of other variables. The computer adapts and alters that which was once done by human hands and screwdrivers.

Exotica has also become commonplace as electronic devices have removed cantankerousness from complex designs. Dual overhead camshafts, hemispherical combustion chambers and higher compression pistons are all commonplace as a result. The 4.0 V6 in my Mustang produces 210 horsepower, a figure the V8 in the original Mustang barely managed.

Carburetors have been excised for fuel injection systems. Gone are the days of pulling choke knobs or pumping gas pedals to prime a cold engine into action. Accelerators in many cases no longer are physically connected to the engine. Instead, they are activated by wires and switches.

All of this has made cars much easier to live with, though at the cost of complexity and price. However, we also lose some of what used to make cars more individual. Each car had its own set of idiosyncrasies and it was part of the ownership experience to conquer and adapt to these quirks. Cars today, thanks to their vast improvements, have become less unique.

I think this explains the continued interest in old cars for many of us, but I do wonder what the generations raised on drive-by-wire and electric power steering will fondly recall from their early days of driving. Will they build those same types of connections with their vehicles as we have?